Women at wheel of ‘pink taxis’ challenge Jordan norms

Jordanian female taxi driver Nisrin Akoubeh. (AFP)
Updated 30 December 2016
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Women at wheel of ‘pink taxis’ challenge Jordan norms

AMMAN: Nisrin Akoubeh checks the oil and water before getting into her taxi and pulling into Amman’s heavy traffic for another day of shuttling fellow women across the Jordanian capital. 
The red-haired mother of three works a gruelling 10-hour shift in her taxi — a rare occupation for a woman in this conservative Muslim society.
“I want to break the culture of shame and prove to Arabs and the Arab world that women are strong and are able to work in any area that could be monopolized by men,” she said.
“Women have been able to drive normal cars for a long time, so why shouldn’t they drive taxis?“
Akoubeh is one of a group of women who want to turn taxi driving into an acceptable profession for women, challenging Jordan’s social norms.
The 31-year-old widow and former nurse drives one of a fleet of 10 “Pink Taxis” driven by women ... for women passengers.
Most of their customers are nurses on late shifts, university students or mothers whose children they shuttle to and from nursery or school.
Wearing a pink shirt and blue tie as she navigates Amman’s congested roads, Akoubeh often also picks up visiting Saudi women whose husbands don’t allow them to ride unaccompanied with male taxi drivers.
“I thank God that I have lots of customers,” she said.
Ghena Al-Asmar, a 19-year-old student who often uses the service, said she feels safer riding the women-only cars.
“When I finish my studies at university in the evening or when I leave the house at night, I prefer to take these taxis because it’s a woman taking a woman somewhere,” she said.
“I don’t think there’s any shame in a woman working as a taxi driver — it’s a profession like any other profession, and it shouldn’t be limited to men,” she said.
Around half a million women in Jordan have driving licenses, about 20 percent of the country’s total drivers, according to the national traffic department.
Akoubeh said some people give her encouragement but “there is always someone to remind me that ‘this is men’s work and you should be in the home.’“
Jordan is relatively liberal in terms of women’s rights compared to other countries in the region.
But more conservative attitudes are still common.
Mohammad Al-Ahmad, a 50-year-old civil servant, said driving a taxi is not appropriate work for women.
“We live in a conservative Eastern society governed by tribal customs and traditions,” he said.
“There are lots of jobs and professions women can do that fit their abilities and preserve their place in society, without them being seen in a bad light.”
But Eid Abu Al-Haj, head of an investment group behind a company that runs the Pink Taxi service, says encouraging women to drive is a service to society.
“Women are more careful and cause fewer accidents,” he said. “By providing these cars exclusively for women, we are hoping to give women more comfort and privacy.”
The service was launched on March 21, when most of the Arab world marks Mother’s Day.
“We started with five cars just for women, with women drivers, and now we have 10 drivers, between 30 and 45 years old, and we’re hoping to expand soon,” said Abu Al-Haj.
The concept has already been tried and tested in Cairo, another conservative city where women taxi drivers were previously unheard of.
Akoubeh said she has a good salary, health insurance, social security and holidays, and she can choose what hours to work.
Other taxi drivers in Amman say they take home at most 25 dinars ($35, 33 euros) a day after paying a share of their takings to the companies that own the cars.
Driving in Amman is not easy work. Home to four million people and 1.4 million vehicles including over 11,000 taxis, the city is prone to choking congestion.
“It takes a lot of concentration and care, especially during rush hours,” Akoubeh said.
But she enjoys the work.
“I get to know new people every day,” she said. “I enjoy my conversations with them and hearing their stories and experiences.”


Sudan’s army calls for unconditional talks with protesters

Updated 50 min 23 sec ago
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Sudan’s army calls for unconditional talks with protesters

  • Protest leaders have set conditions for a resumption of talks, including a withdrawal of the military and militias from cities
  • At least 128 people were killed across the country since security forces cleared the sit-in area outside the military’s headquarters

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s military council said talks on the transition of power should resume without preconditions, signaling a continued standoff with opposition leaders who launched nighttime demonstrations to push for civilian rule.
Protest leaders have set conditions for a resumption of talks, including a withdrawal of the military and militias from cities, the resumption of Internet service and an international investigation of the violent razing of their sit-in camp on June 3.
Transition talks collapsed over the military’s crackdown.
At least 128 people were killed across the country since security forces cleared the sit-in area outside the military’s headquarters. Authorities offer a lower death toll of 61, including three from security forces.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the council, told health workers in Khartoum on Wednesday that the council did not have preconditions for returning to the negotiating table with the Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, which has represented protesters.
He said neither side should make up-front demands.
“I repeat our invitation to all political forces and the FDFC to come (for talks), and there is no need for preconditions,” he said. “We do not deny their role in the uprising and the popular revolution ..., but the solution should be satisfactory to all Sudanese factions.”
Protest leaders could not be reached immediately for comment.
On Saturday, the Sudanese Professionals’ Association said it would stick to its conditions for the resumption of talks.
Meanwhile, protest leaders launched nighttime protests this week.
Late Wednesday, about 300 protesters, mostly young people, marched in Khartoum’s western district of Abbasiya, waving Sudanese flags and calling for justice for those killed since the sit-in dispersal.
Protesters avoid daytime demonstrations for fear of being quashed by security forces heavily deployed in Khartoum.
The military council has rejected the idea of an international probe and said it had started its own investigation along with another one by prosecutors.
An Ethiopian initiative to resume talks apparently failed to make progress in the deadlock. A top general in the military council pushed back last week against a key demand from the protest leaders to have the majority in a transitional legislative body.
Burhan said that the country cannot remain without a government, more than three months after the military ousted autocratic President Omar Al-Bashir in April.
“We do not want that things (get) out of control,” Burhan said. “Another coup could be carried out because of the country’s impasse.”